River Leven: The barque off Dungeness

A lonely deadeye
A lonely deadeye

Last Updated on May 17, 2024 by Steve Weinman

In the latest book by STEFAN PANIS, Shipwrecks Of The Dover Straits, the underwater photographer and wreck-hunter guides us through 18 Channel shipwreck dives that have yielded treasures of one sort or another. In this extract – from one of the shorter chapters – Stefan and his fellow-divers are hoping to positively identify a barque sunk 140 years earlier

I was in Dover for a few days’ diving, and as usual I had a really hard time convincing Tony to dive something other than the Josephine Willis wreck.

Something I could understand completely. A virgin 1850s wreck, 3.5 miles offshore, laden with a mixed colonial cargo. Where else do you want to go?

Barque off Dungeness, clockwise from top left: Detail of the sails from general description of the ship; detail of general description of ship; detail of mid-section; plan (Lloyd's Register Foundation)
Clockwise from top left: Detail of the sails from general description of the ship; detail of general description of ship; detail of mid-section; plan (Lloyd's Register Foundation)

But I wanted to extend my research on the numerous wrecks that litter the area, so Tony [Goodfellow] agreed to do the second dive of the day on another site.

He remembered the site of an iron sailing ship off Dungeness called the River Leven. The tides would be perfect, so the decision was easily made to document this wreck. 

The anchor
The anchor

We launched the RIB from Folkestone, which is about eight nautical miles from the site in the Bay of Dungeness. We could inspect an iron three-masted sailing barque from the late 1800s, so that would make for a very interesting dive, where we would try to confirm the identity and find out more, because research on the Internet didn’t give us much.

Off to explore…

Although the wreck has not given up a lot of treasure, I believe this is a very interesting wreck, which needs to be dived on a yearly basis to see what the shifting sands have uncovered.

I would do the tie-in with James Harvey, a Navy diver who became a valuable team-member, while Eddie [Huzzey] and Tony would dive as the second team that day. We touched the wreck at a depth of 32m in quite good visibility.

I could see an anchor, half-buried in the sand, so I knew we were in the bow section – it’s quite a mess of twisted metal plates, as the collision must have been here – so it took a while to get my orientation right. 

A massive winch was still bolted to the deck. As we headed towards the stern, we could see that a lot of deadeyes were still lying on the deck, giving a spooky impression. 

The main mast had fallen off and was now lying on the deck. We discovered a brass fitting that would have been used to hold the sails’ rigging, so we decided to bring it up in the hope that it could lead us to an identification.

Deadeyes still attached to the deck, and (right) the massive mast with  brass fitting for the rigging
Deadeyes still attached to the deck, and (right) the massive mast with brass fitting for the rigging

Amidships, James spotted another item that could help us! I didn’t recognise it straight away, but it turned out to be a water filter. It was a common item on sailing ships of that era, but maybe it could lead us in the right direction.

Winch on the bow section
Winch on the bow section
Water filter
Water filter

The stern end of the wreck was quite wide, but a little disappointing as it was completely embedded in a sand dune. As this is the most interesting area on sailing ships, I was thinking we would have to come back next season, hoping that the sands would have moved.

Positive identification!

Cover of the steering wheel’s boss
Cover of the steering wheel’s boss

This time, Tony had been lucky. On his dive, he managed to find the brass cover of the boss of the ship. Examining it at the surface, we couldn’t resist shouting out loud as we found the name on it, ‘RIVER LEVEN’. It also revealed the ship’s builder as A Stephen & Sons in Glasgow. 

A set of bollards  and (right)James swimming over deadeyes
A set of bollards and (right) James swimming over deadeyes
James exploring on a silty bottom
James exploring on a silty bottom
James exploring and (right) twisted metal in the bow area
James exploring and (right) twisted metal in the bow area
James exploring
James exploring

The barque was built in 1877, with a length of 56m and a tonnage of 806grt, and was owned by Alex Denny. She sank due to a collision off Dungeness on 14 April, 1885.

This information helps me a lot in further research, and through the Royal Museums at Greenwich I am even able to locate the ship’s plans! Another link led to the University of Glasgow, where the archive services have the book of specifications of the ship, which is incredibly detailed, even describing all the equipment of the galley.

Brass mast-fitting, and (right) water-filter detail
Brass mast-fitting, and (right) water-filter detail

Now buy Shipwrecks Of The Dover Straits

Stefan Panis began diving aged six and gradually developed an interest in wreck diving, photography and research. He has dived many wrecks in the North Sea and is part of the expedition team diving the English Channel.

He has also taken part in many cave and mine dives, and in 2020 became a Member of the Explorers Club in New York. He has written many articles, and co-written four books, including Diving for Treasure.

His new, highly pictorial book Shipwrecks Of The Dover Straits reveals the stories behind 18 of the many vessels that have come to grief in the narrowest part of the Channel.

The gallery of photographs for each wreck – both underwater and topside for many of the finds – is accompanied by a summary of its history and the dive itself, providing an insight into diving in these challenging waters and the excitement of discovering age-old artefacts – all of which have been declared to the Receiver of Wreck.

This is a book for divers, whether or not they are thinking of exploring the area, and for anyone interested in maritime history and adventure. See the recent Divernet review.

ISBN 9781849954969, paperback, 208pp, 24x17cm, £18.99. It is available direct from Whittles Publishing, which publishes a range of diving-related titles, or from bookstores.

Also on Divernet: ‘Ordinary but special’: rare finds on protected wreck, Shipwreck article connects descendant to navigational instrument, Shipwreck silver, brass – even a Model T Ford!, Josephine Willis, Diving into the mysteries of Felicitas Mine & Rhisnes Quarry

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#askmark, Heyo! Longtime listener, first time caller, etc. Went with a BP/W for my first set and I'm having a really hard time keeping the power inflator on my shoulder; the corrugated hose keeps flipping off my shoulder and getting twisted up or just ending up behind the backplate and dangling down the back of the wing. Is there something I can add to my harness to keep it in place? I don't want to tie it to the D ring since I wouldn't be able to lift it to deflate. I'm using the cheap DGX Gears wing for reference. Thanks!

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@jaketarren
#askmark, Heyo! Longtime listener, first time caller, etc. Went with a BP/W for my first set and I'm having a really hard time keeping the power inflator on my shoulder; the corrugated hose keeps flipping off my shoulder and getting twisted up or just ending up behind the backplate and dangling down the back of the wing. Is there something I can add to my harness to keep it in place? I don't want to tie it to the D ring since I wouldn't be able to lift it to deflate. I'm using the cheap DGX Gears wing for reference. Thanks!

#scuba #scubadiving #scubadiver
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How Do You Keep Your Corrugated BCD Hose in Place? #askmark

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We partner with https://www.scuba.com and https://www.mikesdivestore.com for all your gear essentials. Consider using the affiliate link above to support the channel.

The information in this video is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional SCUBA Training. All content, including text, graphics, images, and information, contained in this video is for general information purposes only and does not replace training from a qualified Dive Instructor.
00:00 Introduction
01:17 Ears
05:13 Scuba.com
06:05 Hydrate
08:12 Clean

#scuba #scubadiving #scubadiver
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Become a fan: https://www.scubadivermag.com/join
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We partner with https://www.scuba.com and https://www.mikesdivestore.com for all your gear essentials. Consider using the affiliate link above to support the channel.

The information in this video is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional SCUBA Training. All content, including text, graphics, images, and information, contained in this video is for general information purposes only and does not replace training from a qualified Dive Instructor.
00:00 Introduction
01:17 Ears
05:13 Scuba.com
06:05 Hydrate
08:12 Clean

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Post Dive Body Care #scuba #howto

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